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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Weak Language Skills No Bar to Enforcement of Arbtiration Agreement

Nicolas Molina (Molina), a warehouse workder for Sandinavian Designs, Inc. (Scandinavian) sought to sue after his employment was terminated.  Scandinavian sought to compel arbiration.  Molina opposed the motion, contending that he speaks very little English and thus had no idea that he had signed an arbitration agreement.  Last month, in Molina v. Scandinavian Designs, Inc., the Northern District of California rejected the argument.  

Danish_Design_Center_chairs
In part, Mr. Molina's problem is evidentiary.  Scandinavian claims that an administrative assistant met with Mr. Molina on the day he was hired and presented him with two forms to sign: a one-page employment agreement and a two-page arbitration agreement.  Scandinavian claims that the administrative assistant spoke with Mr. Molina in both English and Spanish, gave him time to read the forms and told him to ask questions is he had any.  

Molina tells a very different version of events, but it doesn't matter.  As the court explains, 

[U]nder established California law, even if Molina could read very little English, Molina's signature on the Arbitration Agreement manifests his assent to its terms, binding him to the contract.

The court then proceeds to explain that contracts are based on mutual consent of the party.  But we are not talking about actual subjective assent, the proof of which may be beyond the court's reach.  Instead, mutual consent is proved when there is a manifestation of consent such as, in this case, a signature on a document clearly titled "Arbitration Agreement."  Molina has a "duty" to learn the contents of the document before he signed.

For good measure, the court also found that there was no problem under California law relating to the authority of the administrative assistant to sign the arbitration agreement on behal of Scandinavian.  Nor could Molina persuade the court that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable.  

The court granted Scandinavian's motion to compel arbitration and dismissed the case without prejudice.

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